Business Questions 8 March 2018

At Business Questions on 8 March 2018, I raised nurses bursaries with the Leader of the House. The Government have not yet provided time to debate early-day motion 937, which deals with the regulations on abolishing nursing bursaries for post-graduate nursing students. The House needs to debate the implications of the Government’s policy, before it is extended even further.

You can read my full speech here:

I thank the Leader of the House for the business and also for her speech—I wonder whether that will happen every time. I am pleased that, despite telling me that statements would not be announced in the House, she has actually announced the date of the spring statement. It is an important statement, and it is business of the House. Is there any reason why the Leader of the House is announcing the business just one week and a day at a time? That seems to be a change, too.

I asked last week about the legislation on restoration and renewal—when is that likely to come to the House? There was a good turnout for the debate on the issue, and every day that goes by when we do not do something, further costs are incurred. I also asked when the Trade Bill was likely to come back to the House, and she did not answer. It seems like all the important legislation is delayed. Is this Government-lite—is this basically a no-business Government?

I do thank the Leader of the House for finding time for a debate on the statutory instruments that the Opposition have prayed against. The only one that is outstanding is on early-day motion 937, which deals with the regulations on abolishing nursing bursaries for post-graduate nursing students. There has been a 33% fall in applications for nursing degrees. That helps women returners, but perhaps the Chancellor might make a concession on bursaries in the spring statement. Immediately after that, when we debate the statutory instruments, people will see that they include cuts to free school meals; an end to childcare vouchers; an end to free childcare for all two-year-olds and families on universal credit; and universal credit regulations that will affect self-employed and disabled people. Perhaps that is what we get with a woman Prime Minister!

May I ask for some other debates? The Liaison Committee has nominated for a debate the Environmental Audit Committee’s reports on plastic bottles, published on 22 December, and on disposable coffee cups, published on 5 January. Can the Leader of the House find time for that debate, and for a debate on the announcement by the President of the United States on tariffs on our steel and aluminium?

We have a sitting Friday on 16 March. I do not know whether the Leader of the House is aware that, on a previous Friday, a closure motion was moved after only two hours of debate, actually stopping the Opposition spokesperson speaking. If she looks at the Official Report, she will see that she was stopped in mid-speech. Can the Leader of the House confirm whether that will be the norm, in which case we will need to warn the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald), who is second on the list, that his Bill will come up much more quickly than it would have done before?

The Leader of the House promised the list of ministerial responsibilities in March. It is now 8 March, so can we have that, please?

We have two days of debate on the UK’s exit from the European Union. Will there be further allotted days, or can the Opposition dare to dream that we will have our Opposition day? We have not had one since January.

Despite the fact that the Prime Minister’s speech to the Mansion House was 6,800 words, she gave only 2,000 words to the House. I feel robbed, Mr Speaker—I do not know about you. We will need a third allotted day as we come up to the year of triggering article 50 on 29 March and the anniversary of the Good Friday agreement on 10 April. The Prime Minister said to the House on Monday that the Government are looking at customs arrangements around the world, including on the border between the United States and Canada, but the Irish Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, who has actually visited that border, said that that “is definitely not a solution that we can possibly entertain.” What about the former Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine, who has criticised the Prime Minister’s speech? He said: “Why is it that after 18 months since the referendum we have not got any closer with these issues? The answer is simple: because no one has got any answer about how to do it.” If the Prime Minister’s speech were a recipe for a cake, you would not be able to bake it—even if it was a cherry Genoa cake, or a double cherry Genoa cake. If it were a road map, it would be a road map to nowhere.

I join the Leader of the House in wishing everybody a happy International Women’s Day. Mr Speaker, you have been absolutely fantastic, because you have your reference group. In 2010, before I came to this House, I watched the evidence at the Speaker’s conference on parliamentary inclusion, and I think it made a huge difference. On this International Women’s Day, I must say that women consultants in the NHS have earned on average nearly £14,000 a year less than men. The House of Commons Library briefing said that women were paying a “disproportionate” price for balancing the Government’s books—86% of the burden of austerity has fallen on women. There may be a woman Prime Minister, but the Leader of the Opposition is a person of deeds. His shadow Cabinet is 50% women, whereas the Cabinet is only 26% women. The Opposition are leading the way with the representation of women; we make up 45% of the parliamentary party.

As it is International Women’s Day, may I ask the Leader of the House to make representations to the Foreign Secretary about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe? If France can provide an exhibition to Iran, please will the Leader of the House urge the Foreign Secretary to make representations on the release of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, as he could have done before Christmas? In addition, more schoolgirls have been kidnapped in Nigeria.

On the day on which the National Audit Office has published a report that talks about cuts of almost 50% to local government services, I want to thank all the public services for their hard work over this period of inclement weather. They have protected us and made sure that we are all safe.